Does Hospital’s Dip in COVID Patients Portend a Peak or a Plateau?

Michael Spake, LRH vice president
Michael Spake

The staff at Lakeland Regional Health is anxiously waiting to see if the past week’s retreat from record high numbers of COVID-19 patients signals a peak in the current surge or just a momentary blip, a hospital vice president told city commissioners this morning.

Hopefully this is a peak; hopefully it’s not a dip and hopefully it’s not a plateau that could continue for several weeks,” said Michael Spake, vice president of external affairs. The trajectory of the cases should be clearer over the next two weeks, he said.

With COVID admissions dropping at hospitals statewide (from 15,682 last week to 13,628 today, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) hospital executives across Florida are “optimistic that this is a peak,” Spake said. “The question is if this is going to be a very sharp peak like we saw in England or is it going to be broader.”

Spake was invited by city commissioners to give an update on the effects of COVID-19 on the hospital.

He described a hospital staff under stress from extra shifts and long hours of high-intensity effort as the number of COVID patients at LRH escalated from 41 on June 25 to 443 on Aug. 26. Administrators have made room for more intensive care beds and hired more than 40 outside nurses and 10 to 20 new physicians to cope with the crisis, he said.

Following dramatic increases in patient loads driven by the delta variant, the hospital started seeing a decline in patients testing positive for COVID-19 during the past week:

This morning, LRH was treating 368 patients who had tested positive for COVID-19, Spake said. They represented 40% of all hospital admissions, and 85% of them are unvaccinated, he said. Among the 368 COVID patients:

  • 56 were in intensive care, and 92% of them were unvaccinated
  • 58 were on ventilators, and 92% of them were unvaccinated. Combined with non-COVID patients, 83 people were on ventilators this morning, a total Spake described as “very, very atypical for the medical center to be caring for such an extremely high number of the highest acuity patients.”
  • 20 current COVID patients have been in the hospital for more than 30 days, and another 40 have been there for at least 20 days.

Spake gave these stats for emergency room patients last week:

  • 6,730 people were treated in the emergency room.
  • 333 of those were admitted to the hospital with COVID-19.
  • 1,053 of the ER patients were discharged home after being diagnosed with COVID-19 and exhibiting symptoms that medical professionals thought could be managed at home.

He gave these stats for COVID-19 testing at the hospital last week:

  • 1,927 people came through the drive-testing center. The positivity rate was 34%, representing 655 cases.
  • 947 people were tested at LRH’s physician offices and urgent care centers. The positivity rate was 22%, representing 208 cases.

The hospital’s clinic for monoclonal antibody treatment is operating at capacity, treating 506 patients diagnosed with COVID last week, he said. Another 148 patients received the treatments, also known as Regeneron, in patient rooms and the emergency room, he said, bringing the average to 93 per day.

That is in addition to the state of Florida’s Regeneron center at Lakes Church, which has a capacity of 300 patients a day. The state centers do not require a COVID-19 diagnosis, treating unvaccinated people exposed to COVID as well as those who have tested positive.

There’s typically a wait of a day or two for qualifying patients to get an appointment for antibody treatment at LRH, Spake said.

LRH last month postponed all elective surgeries in order to devote more resources to critical care, and Spake said officials are closely monitoring lengths of stays of COVID patients to determine when elective surgeries can resume.

View video of Spake’s presentation

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